(Opinion): An Anxious Anniversary

by George Lopez

What a difference a year makes. Last year’s Washington consensus about Iraq as a weapons-laden, imminent threat to U.S. security has now given way to a presidentially-appointed investigation of why intelligence about Iraq was wrong. U.S. citizens were told that Iraq was the next battleground for the war on terror. But while winning the war, US war planners failed to anticipate the terror tactics that would cost us the peace. After touting the virtues of a coalition of the willing and condemning the United Nations, we now hope the UN can supervise a political transition in Iraq. This is not the stuff of a celebratory anniversary, but a time for national scrutiny of a policy moving from bad to worse.p. Any critical re-examination must begin with the intelligence debacle. Thus far the pundits have only asked how and why Washington kept seeing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) where there were none. The more relevant question is why politicians, war planners and the press so consistently neglected to calculate the effects of our own extremely successful and sometimes punishingly brutal policy of economic strangulation and weapons embargo that crippled Iraq for more than a decade. The sanctions system, and the UN intrusive inspections which destroyed labs and real materiel from 1991-98, actually worked. But when President Bush was presenting essentially 1990 estimates of Iraqi weapons capabilities, few demanded the Administration to calculate in the reality that we had already cut off Saddam at the knees.

A second dilemma at this one-year mark is the simplistic language and analysis that the administration employs to explain the violence facing our troops. Preferring to label all attacks as ?terrorist,? the administration has obfuscated the scope and nature of the enemy and confused terrorism as a tactic with terrorism as ideology. Without question, much of the Iraqi resistance still comes from remnants of the Baath party. A much smaller minority than the administration would have us believe, comes from outsiders and Jihadists. And it is now probable that some degree of alliance exists between the two groups.

Continually absent from Pentagon presentations, however, is the daily reality that a growing number of Iraqis, some of whom had no love for Saddam, are shooting and bombing American troops. Some do so as revenge violence because of ?excesses? that victimized members of their families or communities have experienced during what they now see as an American occupation. Others, faced with unemployment and a downward life spiral, become temporary mercenaries and accept payment for planting and detonating road side bombs. They are willing to kill their fellow Iraqis as well. And all of this is occurring before, God forbid, one of Iraq’s ethnic or religious groups decide that only violence will accomplish the goals they were not able to realize through some other means in a country still sorting through its political future.

The resiliency and diversity of the resistance one year into Iraq exposes the unwillingness? or the inability ? of the administration to recognize the complex security dilemma that would exist after victory. While some Pentagon personnel tried to raise this issue before the war, they were shouted down by a Secretary of Defense who was more anxious to boast a ?coalition of the willing? and to ridicule European allies, than to recognize the need for an additional 30-40,000 troops on the ground who would subdue murderous gangs, discover bomb factories and secure economic reconstruction projects. The problem we had in attempting to protect museums, libraries, and weapons depots as troops entered Baghdad is still with us one year later. We simply don’t have enough troops on the ground to cope effectively with the security threat. And we rejected both before and after the official war opportunities for engaging either long-time allies or a Security Council which might have provided these.

War anniversaries inevitably come with messages about the lessons of war. One of the more disturbing of those being touted by the Administration involves serious non-proliferation concerns. We are being told that pre-emptive militancy in Iraq has cowed the Libyan and Iranian governments into compliance with WMD controls that they have resisted until now. Similar to the intelligence failure in Iraq, the Administration refuses to accept hard evidence that explains the truth. A combination of long term economic sanctions, political engagement of Europeans, and as the Administration should know -some tough, backroom diplomacy with the US itself produced Libyan and Iranian compliance. Neither the Iraq war, nor the threat of a future war led these nations to more positive behavior.

On this first anniversary of the Iraq war we must reassess our intelligence capabilities, our security needs, and the way we define the character of the enemy during this post-war phase. Any potential for success we may have in Iraq continues to fall victim to rather stubborn illusions and an ideology that we are a great power conducting a war of national liberation. The reality is that we are fighting in a country where confusion and chaos often are the order of the day. This reality demands a sober scrutiny, not a xenophobic celebration.

George A. Lopez is director of policy studies and senior fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He writes frequently about ethics and the use of force.

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